top of page
  • Writer's pictureAaron Daffern

Take CHARGE Day 23: Student motivation

Updated: Feb 5, 2020

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

(To read Day 22, click here. To listen to this post as a podcast, click here.)

Take CHARGE of the Classroom







Jim couldn’t figure out why the TV remote wasn’t working. He figured one of the kids must have messed with it. He stood stolidly in front of the darkened television mashing the power button on the remote to no effect. If tenacity and sheer stubbornness could have solved the problem, the matter would have ended there. However, Jim’s efforts were wasted.

Working through the many possible causes of his dilemma, Jim began to apply his vast intellectual prowess to the matter at hand. He tried positioning himself directly in front of the sensor, thinking perhaps an object might have obstructed the infrared beam. When that didn’t work, he took a cleaning cloth and carefully wiped down the diode at the end of the remote and the plastic covering the receptor on the television unit. Stray fingerprints, however, were not at the root of the problem.

Then he had an inspiration! How many times had his children told him the remote was broken when in fact the wrong device button was pushed on the remote? The remote had four buttons along the top that read "TV/DVD/CAB/AUX" and oftentimes his kids would say it needed new batteries when in fact they had inadvertently pushed the DVD button. He majestically pushed the TV button, ready to for his sense of victory to flow over him like applause, and then pushed the power button. Nothing.

The remote was not the original one that came with the television but instead was a universal remote replacement. Demoralized, he began to suspect that the remote had somehow become uncalibrated for the the Sony television. Pulling out the remote’s instructions, which he had meticulously dated and filed in his filing cabinet, he ran through the sequence needed for configuring the remote. He held down the setup button on the remote for three seconds until the red light on the remote stayed on. He then punched in the 4-digit sequence designed to work with Sony televisions. A satisfying double blink of the red light let Jim know that the remote was now correctly configured. With a flourish he pressed the power button on the remote.Yet nothing happened.

At this point Jim became obsessed with finding the solution. Having run through all the logical possibilities, his mind began to frantically work through seemingly ridiculous solutions. He tried spinning around three times with the remote. Jim hid behind the couch and popped up to zap the TV as if he were a Doughboy peering over the trench into No Man’s Land. He even put on latex gloves and closed his eyes, pushing random sequences of buttons in desperation.

His wife found him balanced on one foot, aiming the remote through his legs with his back to the television, muttering something like a Gregorian chant. “What are you doing?” she asked, alarmed at her husband’s strange behavior. She knew he could be a bit obsessive about certain things but she’d never seen him like this before.

“What does it look like I’m doing?!?” he yelled back with a manic look in his eyes. With sweat streaking down his forehead, his shirt plastered to his back, he grunted, “The remote isn’t working! I can’t figure out why!”

It took everything within her to not bark out a laugh. She slowly walked over to the wall and stooped down. “I’m sorry, Jim, it’s my fault. I unplugged the TV when I vacuumed the living room earlier and I guess I forgot to plug it back in.” She deftly plugged the TV back in and left the room silently. She left him standing there with a haunted look in his eyes, staring at the remote as if it were an alien artifact.

Plugged in

This short allegory is a perfect mimicry of what is happening in schools all across the country today. Teachers and principals are pulling out all the stops to try and engage their students in classroom activities. They are trying to making learning more fun by including more technology. They are flipping the classrooms and utilizing online learning platforms. Like Jim, educators are contorting themselves into ridiculous configurations in an attempt to get their students interested in learning.

Teachers know what should work. They took pedagogy classes in college, suffered through student teaching, and have several years of experience under their belts. They attend workshops each summer and participate in yearly book studies. Districts continually pilot and push out new initiatives designed to improve achievement and teacher effectiveness.

But what if the students aren’t plugged in? 

For Jim to effectively use the TV remote, two prerequisite conditions must exist. First, he must configure the remote properly. Second, the TV requires power. For students to engage in learning activities, two prerequisite conditions must likewise exist. First, teachers must design effective instruction that invites students into the learning process. Second, students must be motivated to participate. If students aren’t interested, a teacher’s plans can quickly become irrelevant in the face of apathy.

Since teachers cannot control student motivation, they must then rely on the only area within their domain: instructional design. Rather than randomly choosing fun activities, however, teachers can purposefully craft instruction that harnesses one or more of the five facets of student motivation. Through their instructional choices, teachers can plug the students in. 

Five facets

If you want to plug students in, you must interweave the five facets of student motivation into your lesson design - competence, relationships, autonomy, value, and emotions (CRAVE). If you want to motivate students, they must crave learning. That, in turn, is not done through cute Teachers Pay Teacher's worksheets but by leveraging what over thirty years of social cognitive research has show that drives students to learn.

1) Competence - Some students are highly motivated by competence. When they feel like they are able to accomplish a task, they feel engaged and ready to learn. They love building their proficiency through sequential learning. Most importantly, these students need to have an expectancy of success. If they feel like the task is too difficult or out of their reach, they will quickly lose interest.

2) Relationships - Other students get much more out of the classroom when they have built positive relationships with others. Usually with the teacher, though sometimes with peers, these students need the connection of other human beings. They thrive on cooperative learning and working in a group. They best process information by talking things out with a friend and they love to connect their learning to their own lives. Relational learners also thrive in the dramatic arts and literature, exploring the human condition and reveling in the stories of others.

3) Autonomy - For some, the key question is not, “What are we learning?” but, “Do I have to?” A sense of control can make all the difference to some students. After being told what to do, what to learn, where to sit, and how to answer questions for their whole life, some students have a desperate need to break free. A lot of passive-aggressive behavior in the classroom is a result of teachers trying to exert too much control over these students. For every instructor that makes it his/her mission to keep order in the classroom, there are several students willing to accept that challenge head-on.

4) Value - If you’ve ever been asked, “Will this be on the test?” or “How will this help me in the real world?”, you’re getting signals that you are instructing a predominantly value-motivated student. For these students, relevancy is everything. If what they are learning somehow connects to them, then they learn eagerly. If it seems pointless or useless, however, engagement is elusive. Some students value learning for its own sake while others value learning to accomplish a goal. The goal might be getting a good grade, accomplishing a larger aim like getting into college, or getting a good job. Either way, these learners evaluate learning tasks through the filter of value.

5) Emotions - Finally, some students’ emotions serve as their primary motivational facet. If the classroom is fun, or an activity is game-like, than they are all-in. If it’s a more sterile, factory-like atmosphere, however, they will find it hard to muster enough energy to participate. A key emotion to cultivate in these learners is interest. When their curiosity is piqued, their natural inclination will be to explore and engage. If these students suffer emotional distress, either in or out of the classroom, it will greatly affect their academic behavior.

You can read more about student motivation and how to use it to design engaging instruction by checking out my books on Amazon.

Next steps

Action: Think about the level of engagement you would typically find in your classroom. Now picture your most difficult student and try to view him or her through the lens of CRAVE. Consider if your teaching style and lesson design is meeting his or her motivational needs.

Reflection questions: Which of the five facets of motivation do you most identify with? Do you find that facet reflected in your teaching? Which of the five facets is least meaningful to you? If that facet is not integrated into your daily instruction, how does that contribute to misbehavior in the classroom?


Daffern, A. (2017). Solving student engagement: designing instruction to motivate every student. Aaron Daffern Consulting.

To read Day 24, click here.

16 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page